The 1970 Oldsmobile marked the first year General Motors allowed its engineers to design midsize models with engines that packed more than 400 cubic inches of displacement. Although Oldsmobile had gotten around that rule in 1968 and 1969 through the Hurst/Olds, this now enabled Oldsmobile to offer its 455 cid, V8 in all 442s.
The Oldsmobile 442 was designed, marketed and sold as a muscle car that drew its name from the car’s configuration: a four-barrel carburetor, a four-speed manual transmission, and posi-traction, which means power goes to both wheels in slippery conditions. The 442, which dated back to the 1960s, was born out of the competition between Pontiac and Oldsmobile, which drafted the car in response to the hot-selling Pontiac Tempest GTO. It was created by performance enthusiast and Oldsmobile engineer John Beltz, aided by Dale Smith and Olds Chief Engineer Bob Dorshimer.
The 442 first came as an optional kit but became a model in its own right from 1968 to 1971, then reverted back to an option through the mid-1970s. Oldsmobile revived the name in the 1980s on the rear-wheel drive Cutlass Supreme and early 1990s as an option package for the new front-wheel drive Cutlass.
The 1970 model marked the high point of Oldsmobile performance, since the engine packed 365 horsepower under the hood. Magazine advertisements from the time used an “mad scientist” that said "Dr. Olds introduces as large a V-8 as ever bolted into a special-performance production automobile!"
The 442 was awarded the honor of being the pace car at the Indianapolis 500 race that year. Motor Trend praised the 442, stating that "it's probably the most identifiable super car in the GM house.” Options for the 1970 442 included GM's variable-ratio power steering and a console-mounted shifter for use with the turbo hydra-matic transmission. A 1970 Oldsmobile 442 was featured in the chase scene of the movie Demolition Man, starring Sylvester Stallone. The 1993 Achieva SCX was the final production Oldsmobile vehicle that was affiliated with the “442” moniker.